Berkeley Energy Police Coming

A reader sends along a recent Survey USA poll question:

The city of Berkeley is considering a law that would require all homes to be audited to be sure they meet strict energy standards in the city’s plan to fight global warming. This would mean new double-paned windows, attic insulation, a new white roof that reflects heat, a forced-air furnace and high-efficiency appliances. Do you think this law is a good idea? Or a bad idea?

The survey, asked of 500 Berkeley, California adults, had a plurality of 46 percent Yes responses, 44 percent No, and 10 percent Not sure.  Indeed, 46 percent of self-identified Republicans and 40 percent of self-identified conservatives responded Yes.

Oy.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    I wouldn’t support anything mandatory, but I’d expect free programs could show home-owners how to save money, while reducing energy consumption (win-win).

  2. Why is this any worse than any other building codes?

    Ooh, the plumbing police is coming. Oooh, the fire code police is coming. Ooooh, the setback police is coming.

    Oy vey gevalt, indeed.

  3. Bithead says:

    Heh… that would make sense if choice and freedom were what these people were about.

    And James, given we’re dealing with Berkeley, here, how seriously should we take anyone there on their word about being Republican or Conservative? My experience with the place is nobody within 100 miles knows what those terms mean.

  4. Drew says:

    “Why is this any worse than any other building codes?”

    High school sophomore analysis, Bernard.

    Safety standards set by regulatory bodies in a context where consumers cannot be expected to possess reasonable competency to evaluate construction quality are far different from regulating non-safety related customer choice, just because Big Brother, or your zealot neighbor, thinks the policy “is right.”

    I accept that it may be valid for the FAA to set standards for the timing of routine intervals for examining jet engine rotor hubs for evidence of fatigue cracking…………but I do not accept that they should – in the name of “good social policy” – regulate whether I should take a 737 or 757, or if I should take the train or a bus, or even if I should be allowed at all to take an “energy wasting” trip with my daughter to Disneyland.

    Beneath you, Bernard.

  5. odograph says:

    Bernard, it is probably most like public-health related building codes. It’s just tied to a fuzzier and longer term risk. They NYTimes had a recent article about why those are harder for us to embrace:

    Why Isn’t the Brain Green?

    in related news:

    1/3 Of Our Oceans Need Fishing Ban

    They man need it, but we’ll find some excuse not to do it. Sadly, that is what we are.

  6. odograph says:

    Drew, I think you just suffer from traditional conservatism. That’s a kind I prefer myself. It’s easy, in that framework, to be comfortable with any requirement placed on you from the time of your birth, but uncomfortable to see new ones added.

    And so, we look for rationalizations why those old seatbelts were an acceptable loss of freedom, but these new windows are not.

  7. High school sophomore analysis, Bernard.

    Maybe. Though I don’t think your analysis is much better.

    Ultimately, this, like many other things, is a tradeoff between private rights and public consequences.

    Are there negative public consequences of people wasting energy? Yes, indeed. Are they more diffuse than, say, the costs of someone dumping sewage into a drinking line. You betcha.

    But that is a debate to be had, not just an proposal to be dismissive with a frustrated “oy.”

  8. James Joyner says:

    Why is this any worse than any other building codes?

    Ooh, the plumbing police is coming. Oooh, the fire code police is coming. Ooooh, the setback police is coming.

    In my experience, building codes are enforced at the time of construction. There are no random inspection of homes to ensure that they’re up to snuff.

    Even beyond that, the nature of the negative externalities is different. If my house catches fire, it endangers my neighbor. To a much lesser extent, the same is true if my home floods. Not so much if my roof reflects 0.02% more solar energy.

  9. William d'Inger says:

    I would have no objection to such building codes for new construction, but I would oppose them being applied retroactively to historic buildings without some consideration, say, tax breaks to defray the cost of upgrading.

  10. Drew says:

    Not really, odo.

    I’m old enough to see and to acknowledge that many rules and regulations put into place over my lifetime have been beneficial. I’ve also seen the nabsurd and overbearing.

    But I think the two examples you cite are interesting. They both deal with safety, not consumer choice. Safety, and situations of impossibly difficult information availability for adequate consumer safety choice, I understand. However, you eat too much, you smoke too much, you fuxx the wrong people, you use too much energy………uh, you lose me there.

    The same zealots who decide your house uses too much energy and how you are now going to construct it to rectify that problem will next decide that, seatbelts contribution to safety aside, driving is unsafe and we all need to drive in tanks……..

    Oh, wait. That would be energy inefficient. Gosh, we need to have the government energy gurus talk to the safety gurus…….

    A Presidential Commission to decide yer future you see.

  11. odograph says:

    Well there is currently(*) a pretty good relationship between energy and CO2 emissions – and those darn scientists still think AGW has a high probability of being true. Further, those scientists think it will be a net-harm for California, where Berkeley resides.

    We can make the connections, but as I said in my first post, I’m not sure that mandates are required. There is enough money to be made/saved here that people should get themselves moving.

    * – Given basement fusion and electric sports cars, the need to reduce “energy” would of course go away.

  12. FranklinTest says:

    Google PowerMeter: figure out for yourself where you’re wasting energy.

  13. Drew says:

    Bernard –

    I happen to think my salvo was more on point. But we are even.

    “Ultimately, this, like many other things, is a tradeoff between private rights and public consequences.”

    Absolutely.

    This reminds me of a joke I saw many, many years ago, during the Carter Administration: (at the podium) “… and now here is Secy. Joe Califano to tell us about his decision to give up sex, and how it will affect you.”

    So I take it you have decided that in your judgment rules to regulate construction codes wrt cost and energy efficiency are “OK,” under a theory that the public consequences warrant the policy position.

    Have you similarly decided to regulate other private practices with social consequences:

    Smoking?
    Drinking?
    Eating practices? You know, steak houses should be outlawed!
    Exercise practices?
    High risk sexual behavior? The guys in Newtown ain’t gonna like this.
    The size and type of your car? Prius vs Hummer.
    The size of your house?
    When do you outlaw sky diving, Bernard? How about recreational flying?
    How about skiing? (one of the most reckless activities I can think of)
    Bernard, is my sump pump socially acceptable?????

    And so it goes.

    I wonder if you would object, Bernard, to an insurance company (including the US govt) denying
    coverage to anyone who did not meet pristine (uh, “socially correct”) standards of smoking, eating, drinking, exercise. Public consequences, you know. So much for univerasal care and rights an sech………..

  14. Drew says:

    odo –

    I happen to think that man made Global Warming is the greatest hoax to gain some degree of traction in my lifetime. In 20 years this will be viewed as the era of witch doctors. But I digress……

    In my post to Bernard I intentionally went off into all manners of private behaviors with public consequences to illustrate that some sort of bright line distinction is required.

    Bernard may have decided (based upon his original sarcastic post) that regulation of construction codes in the name of good general social energy policy is warranted……..

    But just where do you stop? Do we now implement Bernard’s most excellent smoking/eating/driving/social activity/sexual activity/……..policies? Because they are “good?”

    To reel this back into the currently relevant. Just why has energy policy reached such exalted status that it cannot be subject to market forces, but is subject to mob rule in Berkely?

    You know, I recall strange, contorted objections to the Patriot Act. I’d really like to understand how current regulatory proposals approach the perceived impingements of the Patriot Act.

  15. odograph says:

    How smart do you think we are as a species, Drew? Or, if we aren’t all smart, aren’t all dedicated to hard problems, how wise are we as a species? Are we wise enough to listen to the smart hard workers?

    When I said AGW was “probably” I allowed for some error, and really just took what the brightest people working in the field are thinking, right now.

    You can throw away that you (scientist? climate expert? decades in the field?) think, but to me that really is the point.

    Unless we can rationally engage uncertain probability and risk, the next steps don’t matter.

    (“But just where do you stop?” We just draw a line, based on reasonable costs estimates and benefits estimates, if we are that wise. It will be an arbitrary line, but hopefully not far wrong.)

  16. odograph says:

    Shorter: Look in the mirror, witch doctor 😉

  17. Indeed, 46 percent of self-identified Republicans and 40 percent of self-identified conservatives responded Yes.

    That’s rather a small sample size in Berkeley, isn’t it? Perhaps this was merely a ruse to identify the last few holdouts.

  18. Steve Verdon says:

    I wouldn’t support anything mandatory, but I’d expect free programs could show home-owners how to save money, while reducing energy consumption (win-win).

    Such programs exist, call your utility. Those same utilities can also point you to rebate programs for refridgerators, whole house fans, etc.

    Are there negative public consequences of people wasting energy? Yes, indeed. Are they more diffuse than, say, the costs of someone dumping sewage into a drinking line. You betcha.

    Sure, but the same can be said about a great many activities as Drew noted. In addition to skiing how about this list:

    Scuba diving,
    Water skiing,
    Recreational boating,
    Motorcycle riding,
    Rock climbing,
    Basketball,
    Bicycling and
    Skateboarding.

    Lets trash all these too. After all, basketball had over 500,000 treated injuries in 2005 (link).

    Think of all the health care resources we could save by outlawing the above sports and the lives we could save!

    As for the issue of AGW this topic strikes me as having parallels in terms of projections that Bernard has often mentioned here. The same caution should be used in looking at AGW projections as in other settins such as budget settings, health care spending etc. Some prudent and cost effective action today would seem reasonable. Setting up a specialized enforcement agency? I don’t know, probably not a good use of resources. For one thing, not everyone can afford to make such changes. What then?

  19. Have you similarly decided to regulate other private practices with social consequences:

    No… but I am not going to get all worked up if the democratically elected representatives of the people of Berkeley choose to do so.

    And I don’t know where you live James, but I need permits every time I do anything major to my house — build a patio, put in a pool, etc. I still have to deal with variances, etc.

  20. James Joyner says:

    And I don’t know where you live James, but I need permits every time I do anything major to my house — build a patio, put in a pool, etc. I still have to deal with variances, etc.

    Same here, although that’s new to me. That amount of governmental intrusion would create an uprising in the South.

    Still, I read this as the government coming in from time to time to do “audits,” which is a different thing.

  21. G.A.Phillips says:

    Berkeley Energy Police Coming

    Send to my house, I got a size 12 carbon footprint I wanna leave in their backside.

  22. odograph says:

    Such programs exist, call your utility. Those same utilities can also point you to rebate programs for refridgerators, whole house fans, etc.

    I’ve collected on 3-4 of those from SCE and my water district, which is one reason I recommend them. Their PGE probably has similar programs to my SCE … but I doubt anyone has exhausted the possibilities.

  23. Same here, although that’s new to me. That amount of governmental intrusion would create an uprising in the South.

    Right… but then we get to all make that kind of choice in most cases. It turns out that if I wanted to move to a location with much less government intrusion, I would need to take a massive pay cut.

    There is an insight there if you choose to look for it. Massachusetts is wealthier than Mississippi, New York wealthier than North Dakota, California wealthier than the Carolinas.

    Internationally, the pattern holds as well, of course. Sweden has tons of regulation and taxes, Somalia virtually none. Where would you rather live?

    “The Government than governs best governs least…” I wrote a paper in college defending that proposition. And while I like the philosophy behind it, I have to acknowledge that the empirics are more ambiguous.

    Just a thought.

  24. James Joyner says:

    It turns out that if I wanted to move to a location with much less government intrusion, I would need to take a massive pay cut.

    There is an insight there if you choose to look for it. Massachusetts is wealthier than Mississippi, New York wealthier than North Dakota, California wealthier than the Carolinas.

    True. I think the exogenous variable is population density.

  25. True. I think the exogenous variable is population density.

    Population density predicts wealth? Or government regulation?

    I’m just saying, make a list of the 10 countries with the most regulation and taxes and the 10 countries with the least… and pick where you’d prefer to live.

  26. James Joyner says:

    Population density predicts wealth? Or government regulation?

    Both, I’d imagine. Certainly the latter. The closer one’s proximity to one’s neighbors, the more desire for regulation of their behavior.

    make a list of the 10 countries with the most regulation and taxes and the 10 countries with the least… and pick where you’d prefer to live

    A quick scan of the Forbes Misery Index shows a pretty interesting mix. I wouldn’t want to live in most of the countries with lower taxes than the US but prefer here to most of the countries ahead of us.

  27. Phil Smith says:

    There is an insight post hoc fallacy there if you choose to look for it. Massachusetts is wealthier than Mississippi, New York wealthier than North Dakota, California wealthier than the Carolinas.

  28. Michael says:

    Sure, but the same can be said about a great many activities as Drew noted. In addition to skiing how about this list:

    Scuba diving,
    Water skiing,
    Recreational boating,
    Motorcycle riding,
    Rock climbing,
    Basketball,
    Bicycling and
    Skateboarding.

    You doing any of those does not adversely affect me. You drinking and smoking at home does not affect me. You drinking and smoking in public does affect me, therefore there is recourse for government intervention.

    You consuming a disproportionate amount of a limited resource affects me, so again there is recourse for government intervention.

  29. post hoc fallacy

    How so?

    The simple fact is that the most prosperous countries in the world and the most prosperous regions in the United States are largely (not wholly, but largely) those with the highest taxes and regulations. The relationship is long-lasting and statistically significant.

    Great link James, btw. It makes my point better than I ever could. Thank you. And yes, I’d prefer to be here as well. But that is for a large number of reason, and it is hard to be objective about our home country that way. Take the U.S. out of mix for a moment and tell me what your general conclusion is about the standard of living in high-tax/high regulation countries vs. low-tax/low-regulation countries.

  30. Phil Smith says:

    The taxes don’t create the wealth, Bernard.

  31. James Joyner says:

    Take the U.S. out of mix for a moment and tell me what your general conclusion is about the standard of living in high-tax/high regulation countries vs. low-tax/low-regulation countries.

    The list is an interesting mix, in that China, Estonia, and others are high regulation states and some low regulation states like Taiwan are very livable.

    Most advanced states seem to regulate and tax more (the two go hand-in-hand, really) as they complexify. It’s interesting that Australia, generally considered to be much less regulated (economically, at least) than the US is ranked ahead of us in that regard.

  32. The taxes don’t create the wealth, Bernard.

    I don’t know about that. Maybe a relatively large government is a requirement of economic growth nowadays. I’ll see what I can track down research-wise.

    But regardless, what is also clear is that high-taxes don’t seem to particularly destroy wealth either.

  33. Bithead says:

    The simple fact is that the most prosperous countries in the world and the most prosperous regions in the United States are largely (not wholly, but largely) those with the highest taxes and regulations. The relationship is long-lasting and statistically significant.

    You’re giving a pass to the question of those high taxes being the cause of that prosperity, or existing simply because in a more prosperous country, they CAN exist.

  34. Phil Smith says:

    Infrastructure , combined with a certain level of societal stability, is a requirement for economic growth. Not government. I actually accept that a (constrained) government is the least objectionable way to provide for that infrastructure, but it’s just tedious to read such a simplistic conflation of the two.

  35. Steve Verdon says:

    You doing any of those does not adversely affect me. You drinking and smoking at home does not affect me. You drinking and smoking in public does affect me, therefore there is recourse for government intervention.

    Sure they do.

    1. It would adversely impact insurance rates.
    2. It would use up resources–contrary to public misperception health care is NOT a public good.

    The simple fact is that the most prosperous countries in the world and the most prosperous regions in the United States are largely (not wholly, but largely) those with the highest taxes and regulations. The relationship is long-lasting and statistically significant.

    I’d have to wonder about causality though. Does higher government regulation and taxation lead to more wealth or does more wealth lead to higher taxation and government regulation?

    But regardless, what is also clear is that high-taxes don’t seem to particularly destroy wealth either.

    Depends on what high-taxes mean. If taxes get high enough people might decide to opt of more leisure/home production vs. work since taxes on labor income make leisure relatively cheaper.

  36. Steve Verdon says:

    I would point out that taxes come with a deadweight loss and are a loss of society that is not recovered, it is simply gone. In that regard, taxes do destroy wealth. The only counter is that the taxes are used for things that create wealth in excess of the deadweight loss.

    In regards to regulations there is also the issue of rent seeking. To the extent that rent seeking results in less competition and monopolistic competition then there is again a dead weight loss. Those gains from trade are again, simply lost. Again wealth is destroyed. Now it could be that the regulations result in better products (for example) that increase welfare and offset that loss.

    The bottomline is that yes, taxes and regulations destroy wealth, or at least the gains from trade. However, those losses can be offset. For example providing public goods that absent government might be under provided could offset that deadweight loss associated with taxes. There is nothing that indicates the answer has to be one way or the other in all instances. The answer is an empirical question and should be answered on a case-by-case basis.

  37. There is nothing that indicates the answer has to be one way or the other in all instances. The answer is an empirical question and should be answered on a case-by-case basis.

    Absolutely.

    I actually accept that a (constrained) government is the least objectionable way to provide for that infrastructure, but it’s just tedious to read such a simplistic conflation of the two.

    Yes, indeed.

    And actually people like Mansour Olson have shown that rent seeking by special interests does until lead to a certain degree of stagnation.

    But the point is… just as there is an unreasonable tendency among liberals to assume that government is the answer to everything, there is an equally flawed assumption among conservatives that any time the government gets involved it is a cause of concern.

    Now that we are all in agreement on that… i.e. that sometimes government regulation is beneficial, sometimes not, and that it is really a case-by-case issue… why are “we” so upset that the democratically elected leaders of Berkeley may choose to expand regulation in the area of energy efficiency?

  38. Phil Smith says:

    just as there is an unreasonable tendency among liberals to assume that government is the answer to everything,

    is not the inverse of

    [the] assumption among conservatives that any time the government gets involved it is a cause of concern.

  39. Steve Verdon says:

    And actually people like Mansour Olson…

    Mancur Olson.

    But the point is… just as there is an unreasonable tendency among liberals to assume that government is the answer to everything, there is an equally flawed assumption among conservatives that any time the government gets involved it is a cause of concern.

    Hmmm, I’d disagree with this characterization. I’d say that it should be worded as follows:

    But the point is… just as there is an unreasonable tendency among liberals to assume that government is the answer to everything, there is an equally flawed assumption among conservatives that the government isn’t the answer.

    In this case the two positions are similar. I also think one should always have cause for concern when the government gets involved since control over the government is imprecise at best.

    Further, I’d also question the use of the word “conservative” above. Today many “conservatives” as represented by the government have no problems with the government getting involved in various areas. National defense, national security, immigration, even education and health care are now areas “conservatives” as represented by the Republican Pary have now gotten into and used the government to achieve various objectives.

    Now that we are all in agreement on that… i.e. that sometimes government regulation is beneficial, sometimes not, and that it is really a case-by-case issue… why are “we” so upset that the democratically elected leaders of Berkeley may choose to expand regulation in the area of energy efficiency?

    Lets not fetishize democracy as something that always gives us good results.